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Face to face: Mirwais Azizi, Azizi Developments

From fleeing war-torn Afghanistan to building one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, the rise of Mirwais Azizi and his property empire will ensure he leaves an indelible mark on Dubai

INTERVIEWS, Projects, Azizi Developments, Mirwais Azizi, Skyscraper

Mirwais Azizi, founder and chairman of Azizi Developments, is in high spirits right now – and for good reason.

The businessman, who heads up one of Dubai’s biggest private property developers is sitting on a pipeline of building projects worth $12bn (AED45bn), and is on the cusp of launching what he says will be the most ambitious construction venture in his company’s 11-year history: building the world’s fifth-tallest skyscraper.

“It is the most ambitious construction project that Azizi Developments has ever embarked upon,” he tells Construction Week. “I am looking at every square foot of this project to ensure that it finishes successfully and is delivered on time.”

Building this colossal structure marks a notable shift in the company’s strategy to date. While Azizi Developments is best known in for residential projects – such as those in Al Furjan, its first master development, which was handed over in 2016 – the company’s portfolio is not characterised by height. But this is set to change with the skyscraper.

Azizi says he wants “to make Dubai proud” by building a “beautiful” structure. The skyscraper is expected to cost $816m (AED3bn), which includes the cost of the plot on Sheikh Zayed Road. At approximately 570m tall, the skyscraper will be taller than New York’s One World Trade Centre, the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre in China, and the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea.

Situated adjacent to Dubai Creek, with views of the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab, the tower will be 122 floors high, with the first 100 floors reserved for apartments. A 22-floor luxury hotel will sit above the flats, but Azizi says it is still too early to know which hotel company will land the rights to operate in the skyscraper.

The architect behind the skyscraper is Atkins, a consultancy that helped to design Dubai Metro, Five Jumeirah Village, and Burj Al Arab. Building will kick off this summer and should last up to 46 months. However, Azizi, who appears to be in constant pursuit of efficiencies, hopes to reduce building time by up to six months. If there are no major setbacks on the site or in the boardroom, the skyscraper will be ready by late 2021 or early 2022, the chairman says.

Delivering building projects ahead of schedule has become something of a forte for Azizi Developments. Last year, the founder says, was an “amazing year” for the business. It saw strong progress on a number of construction projects and delivered 13 handovers.

This year looks set to be even better in terms of project delivery. Only three months’ into the year, Azizi Developments has confirmed more than nine of its projects will be delivered ahead of schedule. This includes seven serviced apartment projects in Al Furjan, worth $490m (AED1.8bn), including the Azizi Star Hotel Apartments and Azizi Farishta Serviced Apartments, which are set to be delivered in Q2 and Q3 respectively. The $212m (AED780m) Mina by Azizi on the Palm Jumeirah is set for a Q3 2018 delivery, and then there’s the sold-out Azizi Aliyah Residences in Dubai Healthcare City, valued at $128m (AED470m).

But what’s the secret behind Azizi’s ability to deliver multi-million dollar projects ahead of schedule? “Our company tries to work closely with contractors and sub-contractors,” Aziz says. “Our approach is to understand their problems and support them accordingly. If the company feels money is a problem, we will support it financially.”

He adds that meticulous planning, a well-structured cash-flow scheme, and on-time or even early payments are the “order winners” of Azizi Developments’ delivery strategy. “We establish a collaborative culture in the way we engage with our contractors. Our aim is for them to share the same determination for early completion.”

Azizi is also mindful about location, and focuses not only on retail value, but also on how many hours per day builders will have on site. Some of the company’s construction projects, such as Azizi Riviera, are built away from existing residential hubs, which means the company does not face noise pollution restrictions and can continue building works all day, essentially doubling the speed at which it can build.

So far, time has been on Azizi’s side, but whether the skyscraper will actually be delivered ahead of schedule remains to be seen. And Azizi Developments has a lot of other projects on its plate. At present, the company is involved in more than 200 building projects across Dubai and Azizi says the development business in the emirate is booming.

“You see cranes everywhere in Dubai. Cranes mean it is a very good business environment here. In fact, in any country in the world, if you want to check whether business is good, you need to look for the cranes.”

Drive along Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road and the scale of infrastructural development – and the number of cranes in the city – is evident. And while the Azizi Development’s skyscraper is the firm’s most ambitious project, it is not its only project of note. The waterfront mega-development Azizi Riviera is another significant project in the company’s pipeline, valued at about $3.2bn (AED12bn).”

Azizi says Phases 1 and 2 of the Riviera project will be completed at the start of Q1 2019. Phases 3 and 4 will be completed in Q3 2019. Once completed, the four phases will comprise a total of 16,000 apartments. The project marks the start of the company’s urban neighbourhood projects in Meydan One, following a strategic partnership with Meydan Group that was agreed in February 2017.

From a soaring skyscraper to plush residential neighbourhoods, Azizi seems to have a bold strategy for the beautification of Dubai. He says that’s what he wants: to build beautiful properties in the UAE’s most populous city. His family name is already etched onto a string of residential properties in Dubai, but once his skyscraper is built, people will “see his name rising high into the sky”.

It has been a swift rise to the top of Dubai’s property sector for a man from relatively humble beginnings. Born in 1962 in Kabul, Afghanistan, Azizi graduated with a law degree before working in a legal firm until 1988. When the war in Afghanistan started, he and his family left their homeland and moved to Uzbekistan. There, he entered the textile manufacturing field before moving to the UAE, where he got involved in the lucrative oil business.

Following several years in the oil industry, Azizi returned to Afghanistan and set about helping to rebuild the country’s economy. He invested in the country’s petroleum sector, opened a university in Kabul, and set up a charitable foundation and the Azizi Bank. In 2007, he launched Dubai-based Azizi Development, and now his name is everywhere in Dubai.

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